Why Pursuing Your Passion Is Not Enough (and What You Should Do Instead)

A lot of people will tell you that all it takes to succeed in life is to pursue your passion. But is that always true?

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There are plenty of people out there who are trying to do things they love and aren’t necessarily succeeding. So what are they missing? The truth is that passion is only one of three characteristics you need to find your calling.

Watch me explain this in a free video series: Why Passion Is Not Enough.

Demand, competency, passion

When I’m working with my students or workshop attendees, I walk them through an exercise in which I ask them to answer three important questions. If you want to build a blog that people actually read, make a living doing what you love, or launch a business that succeeds, you’ll have to answer them, too. They are:

  • What do people want?
  • What am I good at?
  • What do I love doing?

Where these three questions converge is where you’ll find your “sweet spot.” As Frederick Buechner wrote, your vocation lies in the intersection of the world’s deep need and your deep joy.

In other words, you have to do something that is both interesting to you and that other people are interested in. And of course, you have to be good (quality is assumed). These questions cover the following areas:

  • Demand: what the world needs or what the market wants.
  • Competency: what skill or ability you offer to meet that demand.
  • Passion: the enjoyment you get from the work you do.

If you have only one or two of these but not all three, you won’t make it. Competency without passion is drudge work. And passion without demand is a hobby. You have to have all three to make a meaningful contribution.

But of course, that’s not to say there isn’t value in doing things you love. I have lots of hobbies I enjoy. I just don’t expect people to pay me for them.

And neither should you.

What’s in it for them?

If you want to get the most satisfaction out of your work and make the most meaningful contribution, you have to move beyond just what you’re passionate about. You have to consider what’s in it for other people.

This is not such a bad thing, actually. Earning the right to share your dream means you value people’s time. It means you actually care about someone other than yourself. But what does that look like, practically?

Here are three simple steps you can take today:

  1. Ask good questions. How else are you going to figure out what people want? You discover demand when you find out what others are struggling with.
  2. Share what you know. The best way to figure out what you’re good at and what value you can offer the world is to share what seems natural and obvious to you and see what resonates with others.
  3. Pay attention to what gets you excited. See how what you share connects with other people and how that affects you. Do you get excited when you teach? Does it drain you to speak in front of people? Take notice of what lights you up and find ways to do more of those things.

No, passion is not enough. The world needs more than for you to just do what you love. It needs you to make a difference. And each of these steps will help you figure out what people want, how you can deliver value, and what it takes to make that work both fulfilling and satisfying.

So you had better get started.

(Note: I’m not sure who first originated this demand-competency-passion model, but lots of folks have addressed it in different ways. I know for a fact that Scott Belsky and Michael Hyatt have both written and spoken about it.)

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Do you think passion is enough to succeed? Share in the comments.

42 thoughts on “Why Pursuing Your Passion Is Not Enough (and What You Should Do Instead)

  1. May our “whys” drive us hard but may our compassion guide our words. Lead in love like the beautiful Outlaw that Jesus was, is, and is to come! Thank you for helping us along the way.

  2. I’m jumping back into blogging after a too-long break. This is the first place I came for encouragement. Naturally. Excited to see “sweet spot” uncovered and feeling thankful that, as soon as I read your words, I had a hunch of what mine is. As always, thanks Jeff.

  3. This is good advice! Especially for students preparing for college. Know what you like, but also what will earn a living.

  4. I fully agree with these three points- I recently wrote about it on my blog too and I phrased it as passion, talent and cause. You package it in a more exciting way 🙂

  5. I don’t think passion is enough to succeed, but I also don’t think you can succeed without passion. Art and writing is a conversation between the viewer and the creator. Some creators deny this relationship and insist on pure independent expression. Others stay passionate but adapt to demand. I suspect the passionate adapters enjoy a much broader audience. Thanks for sharing this important lesson with your readers, Jeff!

  6. Great advice! I think the three things aren’t linear either. You could do something you’re passionate about a lot and BECOME competent and draw an audience. Or you could be sharing something professionally but then later on sharpen your skills and find that you enjoy it. Or you could be really good at something and then find if you have an audience, you actually become passionate.

  7. You are very true. But it is not always possible to make practical use of passion. Kindly suggest how to make practical use of passion

  8. Thank you! I always thought Passion was enough, but now I think it’s not. It IS still important, but now I have two more elements.

  9. Thanks for the word of truth. There are a lot of things that I like to write about that no one else is really interested in. These are things that I am passionate about and competent about too. Is there a way to create demand in areas like this? I remember hearing a quote, I think from from Steve Jobs that went something like “People don’t know what they want. You have to tell them what they want.” Is there any truth in that?

    1. You’re welcome, Richard!

      I think what Jobs was tapping into was how you could create something that people actually DO want; they just don’t know it yet.

  10. On a similar note, I always find myself telling my friends that if you have the effort or the money, then you will always be valuable to someone else. But if you have the idea and want someone else (me) to put in the effort and the money, you’re gonna be hard up.

  11. Great post, Jeff. I’ve recently written about this very thing in my journal. I’ve discovered also that it’s not just what I’m passionate about that matters, but what allows me the FREEDOM to be myself without becoming OVERWHELMED by the demands of having to “Chase the Money.”

    At the end of my journal entry, I asked myself this question: “Should I really be doing what I ‘love’ (am passionate about), or should I be doing what gives my soul and conscience true LIBERTY?”

  12. Great post, Jeff! The passion/competency/demand paradigm is a much needed discussion in the entrepreneurial space! Thanks for sharing this!

  13. Hey Jeff, great post, as usual. I just published two books on these three principles, and a fourth, that my consumer research in loyalty management suggest are the “Cornerstones of Commitment,” as I call them. I’ve presented them as “EPIC”–Effective Competence, Principled Character, Inspired Causes, and Contribution Value. The interesting thing about these is that a process to examine each, and how they all overlap, informs your “EPICENTER”–your core purpose is to be found within your strengths, passions, temperament, and service value to others. Tribe Writers has been a big support to me, and continues to be, in my journey from executive to author.

  14. Hey Jeff,

    Totally. Awesome. Post.

    Trying to be a blogger or a writer based solely on passion ISN’T enough. You need to have more than that. And you laid out that point perfectly.

    But probably the most important question you should be asking yourself as a writer whenever you’re writing about something is “What’s in it for them?” That question alone can seriously help anyone focus better and write content that geared towards solving their readers problems.

    Lastly, “The world needs more than for you to just do what you love. It needs you to make a difference.” is definitely true as well. Many people don’t really focus on trying to make a difference, an impact on people’s lived. They focus on just being happy to do what they love.

    Sometimes, that’s just not enough.

    Excellent post here, Jeff.

    – Andrew

  15. This is a plain and good text – thing that, most of people tend to forget, “selling” shallow advices. The bold part is “Take notice of what lights you up and find ways to do more of those things.” I truly believe that is where people can take advantage of the intersection of the 3 points you’ve covered. As you use to say, to be called you a writer, you must and think and act as one. Practicing will lead the way. Thanks Jeff.

  16. GREAT Jeff , you have done it again, welldone !you are absolutely right with The 3most important Things you mentioned. i am passionate about writing on ” Journeying with Boat of LIFE and Death ” this is a way of pleading with African Leaders to come to round table and Talk, because we Can not Go on watch our Brothers and Sisters die ieveryday in The high sea. I have this Passion , But is it enough to speak Through The Eyes of my audience.

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